What’s a Price Guide Guru?

 

What Is a “Price Guide Guru”?

WHAT IN TARNATION is a Price Guide Guru? Well, it’s a nick­name that I re­ceived in one of the first fan let­ters for my first book, the 1985-1986 Rock Record Album Price Guide. That was—at least philosophically—the first of its kind: a price guide for record col­lec­tors that ac­tu­ally re­flected the re­ality of the cur­rent mar­ket­place! 1

It was the sixth edi­tion in a line of price guides for long-playing records (LPs) from O’­Sul­livan Wood­side Pub­lishers. The ear­lier edi­tions were ti­tled Record Al­bums Price Guide and had been com­piled by two other au­thors, both of whom had left OW.

I used “philo­soph­i­cally” above be­cause the pre­vious edi­tions used a con­trived for­mula based on age to as­sign values to old records. An album was as­signed a value based on its age, not on the cur­rent supply and de­mand.

My books changed all of that!

With this ar­ticle, I am pro­viding some per­sonal back­ground in­for­ma­tion on how I got the job as the au­thor and ed­itor of these books. For more in­for­ma­tion on my books and price guides in gen­eral, refer to the list at the end of this ar­ticle.

 

ow_lp_guide250

My first book was the Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide pub­lished by O’­Sul­livan Wood­side in 1985. The cover re­mains my fave: a staged garage sale at the O’­Sul­li­van’s house using my records and their family.

The grassroots of my calling

In 1985, I was living in Scotts­dale and working as an en­graver at a trophy shop on the other side of Phoenix. Rush-hour traffic in the ’80s was un­gawdly: it took at least ninety min­utes to drive the sev­en­teen miles from home to work on the highway or the nine­teen miles on the city streets.

To avoid traffic, I stopped at Grass­roots Records, a used record store in Phoenix. The pro­pri­etor was Joe Lindsay, a nice guy in the best sense of that term. Aside from his store, Joe was the co-author of The Com­plete Bea­tles U.S. Record Price Guide with Perry Cox. The first edi­tion of their book had been pub­lished by a local com­pany, O’­Sul­livan Wood­side.

 

My first two books changed the way that records were col­lected every­where!

 

By 1985, OW had pub­lished a se­ries of record col­lec­tors price guides by sev­eral au­thors. Their pri­mary au­thor had just quit, leaving the com­pany with a handful of prof­itable copy­rights but no way to make any money from them.

O’­Sul­livan Wood­side had ap­proached Cox and Lindsay about au­thoring the new edi­tions. Perry had too much on his schedule, but Joe thought he could handle his store and the books, so he agreed.

 

coxlindsay_beatlesow

The first edi­tion of The Com­plete Bea­tles U.S. Record Price Guide by Perry Cox and Joe Lindsay was pub­lished by O’­Sul­livan Wood­side in 1983. It has re­mained in print as a Cox title with sev­eral pub­lishers since; it is per­haps the most trusted record col­lec­tors price guide.

And the book was all mine

Joe in­tended to “au­thor” the sixth edi­tion of the Record Album Price Guide with a team of local ex­perts. He asked me to handle all en­tries for ’60s rock, soul, and pop. As that was where the bulk of the in­terest in LP col­lecting was at that time, I was of­fered the most im­por­tant part of the book.

Of course, I ac­cepted.

I looked for­ward with an­tic­i­pa­tion to the changes that I would make to the pre­vious edi­tion, which had been hugely dis­ap­pointing.

There was a saying among record sellers about the in­sanely high values as­signed to common LPs in the OW books: Take the book price, cut it in half, and work down from there.

I did not want the dealers saying that about my con­tri­bu­tions to the new Lindsay edi­tion!

Then things changed: for per­sonal rea­sons, Joe could no longer be in­volved in the book.

Don Wood­side had asked Joe if there was one person who could do the book by him­self?

Joe said, “Neal Umphred.”

Don said, “See if he’s in­ter­ested.”

Joe said, “Neal, do you wanna do the whole book—the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s?”

Neal said, “Did God make little green ap­ples and does it rain in In­di­anapolis in the sum­mer­time?”

Joe said, “Don Wood­side wants to see you im­me­di­ately!”

 

housecollectibles_1982

The only other price guide for record col­lec­tors came from House of Col­lectibles, who ap­par­ently had a title for every thing ever col­lected. The HoC book was so bad it made the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side guides seem the work of ge­nius. 2

I tell him what I think of his books

I sat op­po­site Mr. Wood­side in his of­fice as he ex­plained that, due to a va­riety of “issues”—all of which cen­tered around their erst­while au­thor’s per­sonal peccadillos—the sixth edi­tion of the Record Album Price Guide was long overdue.

OW was a small com­pany that de­pended pri­marily on the output of two au­thors to bring an in­come that jus­ti­fied re­maining a pub­lisher. 3

That without at least two new price guides a year, cash-flow for OW was a problem. They needed me to step in and pro­duce some new product as quickly as pos­sible!

To ef­fect that, Mr. Wood­side wanted me to “up­date” the Record Album Price Guide. He re­quested that I simply take the pre­vious edi­tion of the book, change a few values, change a few photos, and write a new in­tro­duc­tion. They would then have a new edi­tion of their best-selling title to ship within a couple of months!

“Uh uh,” I re­sponded. “No way.”

Mr. Wood­side was sur­prised: “What do you mean?”

Just take it or leave it

I was in the con­trol seat: OW needed me, but I didn’t need them. I had a de­cent job as an en­graver and was rea­son­ably happy with my work and my em­ployers. It was one of the few job in­ter­views that I have ever done where I had a take-it-or-leave-it at­ti­tude where the “it” was me.

I did not need this job with Mr. Wood­side’s com­pany.

I cer­tainly wanted the job.

But I wanted it on my terms.

This gave me con­fi­dence that I rarely felt in dealing with the world-at-large. It em­bold­ened me to tell Mr. Wood­side my opinion of his books.

It was not flat­tering.

 

nu_ow_elvis_250

My second book for O’­Sul­livan Wood­side was the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide in 1985. I was tempted to recreate the cover photo of the Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide (above) and sub­sti­tute Elvis records. In­stead, I went with this lovely cover by a local pho­tog­ra­pher who had worked pre­vi­ously with OW.

The books absurdly inflated values

After es­tab­lishing that Mr. Wood­side knew nothing about record col­lecting, I ex­plained that the OW books dra­mat­i­cally in­flated the values of common records, which were most of the records listed in the books. And those few truly rare records that the au­thor had both­ered to in­clude were just as dra­mat­i­cally un­der­valued!

I ex­plained that the OW books made it al­most im­pos­sible to ac­cu­rately as­sess the value of any record, common or rare!

I ex­plained that the OW books were be­coming less and less useful with each suc­ceeding edi­tion.

I ex­plained that the OW books were doing an enor­mous dis­ser­vice to the col­lecting com­mu­nity! That they were con­fusing sellers and buyers alike, causing col­lec­tors to con­tin­u­ally overpay for used records and con­se­quently over­value their col­lec­tion. 4

I got the job!

I ex­plained that if hired, I wanted carte blanche with each title and no ques­tioning of any de­ci­sion that I made re­garding con­tent. That each book needed a thor­ough re­working re­quiring thou­sands and thou­sands of large and small changes.

Mr. Wood­side re­ally didn’t enjoy this part of the in­ter­view.

And I knew that I was not get­ting the job.

As I was get­ting up to leave, I no­ticed an item he had framed on the wall. It was a de­gree from a de­sign school in De­troit. Wanting to leave on a chipper note, I asked, “So, you a Tigers fan?”

We then spent the next two hours talking base­ball.

Mr. Wood­side re­ally en­joyed this part of the in­ter­view.

And I knew that I was get­ting the job.

 

overstreet_1979_woodeccover

For my taste, the stan­dard for price guides was Robert Over­street’s Comic Book Price Guide. Each book is packed with in­for­ma­tion and il­lus­tra­tions and a reader doesn’t have to know a thing about col­lecting comics to enjoy the book. This 1979 edi­tion fea­tures cover art by Wally Wood in tribute to his work with EC Comics in the 1950s.

What is a “price guide guru”?

In one of the first fan let­ters I re­ceived at OW, the writer thanked me for fi­nally taking the mar­ket­place se­ri­ously. He thanked me for as­signing more re­al­istic values to both common and rare records, for which he dubbed me the “price guide guru for record col­lec­tors.” 5

I thought the moniker clever and funny, but I didn’t have an op­por­tu­nity to use it with O’­Sul­livan Wood­side. When I started con­tributing to Gold­mine mag­a­zine, I often signed off as the Price Guide Guru.

And a few Gold­mine readers started re­fer­ring to me by that nick­name.

But I haven’t used it for twenty years.

Until now …

 

madmagazine_maharishi

This is the com­plete cover for Mad #121 (Sep­tember 1968) with art by the inim­itable Norman Mingo. While an en­tire issue de­voted to a hip Six­ties theme was prob­ably asking too much of a hard-working staff, this issue did in­clude the per­ti­nent sto­ries “Everyday Va­ri­eties Of Psy­che­delic Fun” and “New Protests To The Same Old Tunes.”

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The phrase “What in tar­na­tion?” is one of a wide va­riety of eu­phemistic ex­pres­sions of sur­prise, be­wil­der­ment or anger that arose in 18th and 19th cen­tury America. Per­haps due to our Pu­ritan legacy, Amer­i­cans were, during this pe­riod, es­pe­cially cre­ative in de­vising oaths that al­lowed us to ex­press strong emo­tions while still skirting blas­phemy.

Tar­na­tion is an in­ter­esting ex­ample of this gen­er­a­tion of eu­phemisms be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally two eu­phemisms rolled into one word. The root of tar­na­tion is dar­na­tion, a eu­phemistic mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the word “damna­tion,” which at that time was con­sid­ered unfit for po­lite con­ver­sa­tion. Dar­na­tion be­came “tar­na­tion” by being as­so­ci­ated in pop­ular speech with tarnal, an aphetic, or clipped, form of eternal.” (Ap­palachian His­tory)

2   Cu­ri­ously, no one I ever talked to had ever met or spoken with the book’s au­thors, Ran­dall C. Hall and Thomas C. Hud­geons III, leading many of us to be­lieve that they were house names, man­u­fac­tured by House of Col­lectible’s to give their dreadful books a sem­blance of re­ality.

3   Aside from the record col­lec­tors price guides, they pub­lished books by Norman Ward­haugh Walker, a pi­o­neer in the field of nat­ural nu­tri­tion, and es­sen­tially the “fa­ther of modern juicing.”

4   This bubble for the col­lector usu­ally only popped when the col­lector found him­self in a po­si­tion where he had to sell his col­lec­tion. When the local used-record store-owner made him an “in­sulting” offer and the col­lector started a sen­tence with “But the price guide says …” he was often shut down by the store-owner with a laugh and an ex­pla­na­tion that no­body used those books be­cause they were shit!

5   The pri­mary de­f­i­n­i­tion of guru in Merriam-Webster is “a per­sonal re­li­gious teacher and spir­i­tual guide in Hin­duism.” But it’s their sec­ondary de­f­i­n­i­tion that ap­plies here: “a teacher and es­pe­cially in­tel­lec­tual guide in mat­ters of fun­da­mental con­cern.”

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